A few months back I found myself going through a really difficult time. And since I’ve found over the years that fresh air can help clear the mind I went to a local park – trying to focus on the beauty of the day, the dogs frolicking in the grass, the babies in strollers. The positive things.
As much as all that was there, I felt overwhelmed with emotion. It was uncontrollable. So uncontrollable that I just gave into it and cried – right then and there.
Cried big hot tears, that apparently really needed to come out.
In the middle of all that I wiped my eyes and then saw a young man in a red hoodie, a dark-skinned young man in baggy pants, heading straight toward me – walking that “street walk”, listening to music on his headphones so loud that I could hear the beat.
And I thought: “oh no, not now – don’t hassle me, don’t ask me for money, don’t talk to me, I can’t handle this.” And I looked away, and took a deep breath and hoped he’d just pass by.
But he didn’t.
The next thing I knew, he put his arm around me and pulled my head onto his shoulder! And said: “you’re going to be ok.” A total stranger.
Who did I see when I looked at him coming towards me, that day? Clearly not the compassionate, generous soul who would go out of his way to wipe away the tears of some hysterical old white lady in the park.
I didn’t see him. I saw what I expected to see. Made a lot of assumptions in a fraction of a second. Was not able to recognize him as a neighbor.
We live in the real world. Let me just say that. “Bad” things do happen to “good” people, all the time. There are those who will do unspeakable things and leave you lying in the road. I know.
Many laws are designed to prevent such things from happening. And part of the process of growing up is learning to take “precautions”. Learning to “stick to your own kind”, for example, and “not talk to strangers.” And that approach, I’m sure, has kept me safe, on quite a few occasions.
But if I am to take seriously the tenets of my faith, then I need to learn to see that everyone, everyone, is “a neighbor.” Making assumptions, allowing fears to cloud vision, categorizing people, dividing them into “good guys” and “bad guys”, friends and enemies, based upon external appearances – is far too simplistic.
We travel this road together. One people. Fallible. Fearful. Short-sighted, sometimes. But each and every one of us worthy of and capable of compassion and care.
And if there is such a thing as redemption, I believe that this just may be a big part of it.